Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

St. James, TGI Justice
seek new offices


St. James Infirmary Executive Director Stephany Ashley. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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A San Francisco nonprofit that provides free medical services, HIV testing, food, and other assistance to sex workers is looking for a new home as the South of Market building where the organization has been based for 13 years is being sold.

St. James Infirmary, at 1372 Mission Street, learned this summer that Mercy Housing California, the nonprofit that had just bought the building, is selling it. St. James now has less than three months to move. Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project, which mainly helps transgender women who are in prison, shares space with St. James and will also move.

"We've been told the longest we can expect to stay would be through early January," said Stephany Ashley, St. James' executive director.

A recently launched Gofundme campaign shows that as the nonprofit looks for a new site in one of the country's most competitive real estate markets, it has lots of support.

The online crowdfunding effort aimed to raise $25,000 for renovations, relocation expenses, and other costs within 30 days. The goal was surpassed in just three days. With matching funds from an anonymous donor, the total amount raised is more than $50,000.

Despite the impending move, Ashley is confident in her agency's future.

"As an organization, we feel very stable and strong right now," she said. "Our staff is really strong, our programming is really strong, and our budget is healthy. While this is certainly one of the biggest challenges we could be presented with," St. James is "well-positioned to handle this."

The goal is to open the new facility "without any break in services," Ashley, who identifies as queer, said.

Mercy Housing California, which provides housing for about 8,000 households in the state, recently bought St. James' building at 1370 Mission.

Doug Shoemaker, Mercy's president, indicated the sale is out of financial necessity.

Shoemaker said his agency had been the building's master lessee for about 15 years and is in the process of selling the site, along with neighboring buildings at 1340 and 1360 Mission Street.

He said Mercy's lease arrangement with the former owner had been "a financial drain." His nonprofit "regularly lost" $300,000 to $500,000 a year operating the building in which St. James is located, which also includes an English language school, he said.

"In order to get rid of the lease, we had to buy the building," which the nonprofit took on "a lot of debt" to do.

"That is why we're selling it," said Shoemaker, whose agency usually has an annual budget of $12 million to $13 million.

He wouldn't say how much Mercy paid for the building, and he declined to say who the prospective owner is without their permission. All three buildings are being sold to the same party.

Citing public records, the real estate news site said MCC 1360 LLC, which shares Mercy's address at 1360 Mission, bought 1340, 1360 and 1366-1370 Mission in May "for a total of $22.75 million."


Loss and hope

Ashley said that among St. James' clients, there's been "a sense of loss and sadness, and a sense of anger, but people are also ready to have a bigger and nicer space," and they're feeling "hopefulness and positivity."

About 4,000 unduplicated participants receive primary medical care from the nonprofit. Additionally, the agency works with clients through its needle exchange and street outreach services.

It's too early to say what a new space will cost, Ashley said. Her organization has letters of intent "in process on a couple different spaces, but we're still looking and fundraising and trying to get a clear picture of what we can afford," she said. St. James' budget is about $750,000.

Ashley declined to say what spaces her nonprofit is looking at, but she said, "In a perfect world, we would stay close to where we are right now."

Among St. James' clients are homeless and marginally housed people from the Mission, Tenderloin, and South of Market neighborhoods, and Ashley said that although staying in SOMA would be "ideal," the agency is checking all three areas for a new site.

San Francisco's Department of Public Health leases St. James' building, and the rent, which is approximately $45,000 a year, "is predominantly in kind" from the city agency, Ashley said.

Health officials continue to help St. James, she said.

"We're in negotiations about what kind of support DPH can provide us in the future," Ashley said. Like most organizations, the city agency has "limited resources," she said, but "they're being as helpful as they can."

Colleen Chawla, the department's deputy director, said, "We have been in partnership with St. James for a long time. They provide really important services for a hard to reach population."

Whether the agency will be able to continue to help St. James with most of its rent "depends on what the space is," Chawla said. "Every space is going to have its own unique attributes."

However, she said, "We're definitely committed to St. James and making sure they find a viable option."

The nonprofit's current space has "a little over 2,800" square feet, Ashley said. "We're looking for around 3,000 or more."

She said "one of the most challenging" aspects of finding a new home in the current market is that "private landlords are very reticent to rent commercial space to nonprofits," especially agencies like hers that provide direct services.

Another problem is that many landlords don't want to sign long-term leases, Ashley said.

"We don't want to have to do this again in three years," she added.


TGI Justice

TGI Justice, which subleases space from St. James, will be staying with the larger agency. Janetta Johnson, the group's executive director, said that with a budget "well under $200,000," her agency is one of the city's "most underfunded organizations" and isn't able to pay rent to St. James.

Johnson noted that before sharing space with St. James, her agency had left San Francisco for "an industrial area" in the East Bay, making it challenging to access services.

"People had some concerns about being out there," she said, and some clients have been worried about the agency's future move.

In recent years, some nonprofits that had been based in San Francisco, including Transgender Law Center and Gay-Straight Alliance Network, have moved their headquarters to Oakland, where real estate tends to be cheaper, although that, too, is changing as the city attracts more market rate development and new companies, such as Uber.

Asked whether there was any chance of them moving to the East Bay, Ashley and Johnson said, in unison, "No."

"We're staying in San Francisco," Ashley said.

In a Facebook message, San Francisco Health Commissioner Cecilia Chung, a transgender woman, said both St. James and TGIJP "provide support and services to some of the most marginalized in our community. They represent the San Francisco values that have attracted so many of us to call this city home."

Contributions to the organizations may still be made at


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